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Xiao He Pursues Han Xin by the Moonlight
Xiao He Pursues Han Xin by the Moonlight

The tale of Xiao He pursuing Han Xin in the moonlight has been used throughout the ages to stress the idea of appointing capable persons to official positions.

In his youth Han Xin didn't give much indication of competence. A poor commoner, he could find nobody to recommend him as an official, and he was unable to make a living as a merchant. So he relied constantly on the generosity of others. He moved in with the family of the head of the imperial courier station in his home town, Huaiyin (now in Jiangsu province). But after several months the station head's wife let him know he wasn't wanted and he left.

He tried living on fish he caught in the river. An old woman who came there to wash and bleach silk took pity on him and fed him for many days until her bleaching was finished. Han Xin was most grateful. "I promise to repay you handsomely" he said. The old woman became angry. "Young man, I gave you food because I felt sorry for you, not because I expected repayment".

Han Xi joined a peasants uprising against the Qin, but after it was defeated he became a guardsman to Xiang Yu, an aristocrat from the former State of Chu. Xiang Yu led a rebel army, one of two, the other being led by Liu Bang.

Han Xin made several suggestions on strategy to Xiang Yu, but the latter didn't pay any attention to him. So Han Xin left and went over to Liu Bang's forces in the west. He didn't cut much of a figure there either, for Liu Bang gave him only a lowly position as an official who received guests.

Han Xi became caught up in political scandal and was sentenced to death - thirteen men had been beheaded before him and his turn was next. Seeing some important people in the audience, he shouted, "Doesn't our prince want to conquer the empire? Then why behead a brave man?" He was released and Liu Bang made him a middle-ranking official in charge of army grain, where he cam to the notice of the advisor Xiao He. Han Xin became depressed, feeling that he would never be recognised, and deserted Liu Bang's army. When Xiao He hear of this he decided to go after him. He rode and rode till the moon came up. Finally he caught up with Han Xin on the banks of a river. Tired and breathless, he pleaded with Han Xin to return with him and Han Xin did.

On learning that his closest advisor (Xiao He) had disappeared, Liu Bang was very irritated. When Xiao He came back, he said, "Why did you leave without telling me?". " I had no intention of leaving you" replied Xiao He, " I was after a rare treasure and I pursued it for the defence of your rule. Han Xin would make a commander unparalleled in your whole army. If you want to march east and master the empire, Han Xin can be of great value to you. But if you do not use him properly he will leave again".

Liu Bang agreed to make Han Xin a general just to please Xiao He, but that was not enough for Xiao He. He insisted that Han Xin be made chief Marshal. Liu Bang finally agreed and prepared to call Han Xin in.

"That's just the trouble" Xiao He said. "You are too offhand about these things, appointing a chief marshal as if you were calling for a child." He urged that the investiture be done with ceremony after fasting and purification. Xiao He chose an auspicious day, an altar was built, and to the roll of drums Han Xin was presented with the seal and certificate giving him power over the army.

Having formely served Liu Bang's enemy, he was able to point out some of his weaknesses. Xiang Yu, he said, had a reputation for courage and magnanimity, but all this amounted to nothing, for he was incapable of employing wise generals; when someone did render service he hesitated to compensate him with a fief, "playing with the seal until the corners were rubbed smooth before he could bring himself to part with it". Instead he awarded his favourites. With this he was sowing the seeds of his destruction. This is related by the historian Sima Qian, who wrote from the viewpoint of the Han dynasty which was established by Liu Bang.

Liu Bang got the message. With Han Xin's help, he built an army of high combat effectiveness and gradually established his rule over the whole country as first emperor of the Han dynasty. There are several tales of the military strategies by which Han Xin distinguished himself, and when his armies came back to Huaiyin, he did reward the old washerwoman. He accepted the title Marquis of Huaiyin and he and Xiao He, who became prime minister, were two of the three outstanding personalities of the early days of the Han dynasty ( 206 BC - AD 24).

The story of Xiao He's pursuit of him was made into an opera in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) which has remained popular to this day.

Adapted from Shanghai on Internet

UPDATE[ 2007-10-28 ]    HIT[ 6772 ]
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